6 Stupid Characters That Hollywood Now Puts In Every Movie
Writing realistic and compelling characters is, like, really hard to do -- and it only becomes more difficult when you're trying to write realistic characters in a world of rampaging mutant scientists and dinosaur skirmishes. Since solid (even marginal) character development has lately taken a backseat to finding excuses for the heroes to get tossed from one action setpiece to the next, we've started to see the same inexplicable character traits spring up in our favorite blockbusters over and over again, like big dumb weeds. Don't believe me? Then how come ...
No One Has Any Fear of Death
There's a scene in the record-breaking Jurassic World in which the two kids escape their gigantic clowny hamster ball in order to be thrillingly chased by a genetically-bastardized monster cartoon.
"LOL! #ButchAndSundance" -- The tweet they send right after
After narrowly escaping a nightmarish death by mere inches, the brothers crawl out of the water while sharing a hearty chuckle, like a couple of rough-and-tumble Indiana Joneses. Because that's totally how a pair of rich children would react to having eons of evolution explode gallons of fear hormones into their brains. Hey, remember these kids?
It's Lex and Tim. You know this.
Even at their bravest moments, Lex and Tim spent the majority of Jurassic Park racking up psychiatry bills like skee ball tickets. After the first T. Rex attack, Lex babbles in a drainage pipe, while Tim is catatonic in a mechanized tree house. And sure, both of these kids do eventually enjoy a few chuckles, but at least the movie tried to show us how a normal child would spend the first several hours after a goddamned dinosaur attack stewing in a puddle of gibbering horror shit.
See, thanks to the flood of late sequels and remakes, we're now able to see the specific way modern films royally mishandle characters from the '80s and '90s. Look at the 1984 Terminator's Kyle Reese vs the 2015 Terminator's Kyle Reese:
"Nailed it!" -- a casting director
In 1984, Kyle Reese was wiry, desperate, and had PTSD flashbacks thanks to growing up as a feral child in the middle of an irradiated robot apocalypse. In 2015, Kyle Reese is a swole-up supermodel exchanging good-natured jabs with an aged robot dad who represents the waking hell of his entire childhood. At one point, both he and 1980s Sarah Connor travel to 2017 without exchanging a single moment of bewilderment to how mind-fuckingly different the world has become. Maybe this is the bar that's been lowered since superhero films defined destroying a space portal as cause for mild panic attacks, but we've reached a point where monsters and robots are so commonplace that even the fictional characters seem unfazed. The end result is films that absolutely don't stand the test of time, because once the audience is immune to the spectacle, all that's left is a bunch of lackluster mouthbreathers.
These people are supposed to be watching a man getting eaten by a monster.
Movie Villains Can Instantly Pick Up The Skills Of The Heroes
Before superhero films were a huge thing, it used to be that the protagonist would start as the out-weaponed underdog who needed time to match the strength and/or abilities of the villain. Dutch set booby traps for the Predator, Ripley figured out how to fire a gun, and Neo learned how to channel his inner ninja Gumby man.
And you learned never to trust again.
It's kind of hard to do that when your movie begins with the hero already having a jet-powered projectile suit. And so we started getting films in which a chunk of the time was spent watching the villain become formidable to the heroes' skills. And since no one wants to watch the bad guy undergo an optimistic training montage, the new method was to hand them the ability like a vending machine bubble toy.
We see Superman spend his childhood adjusting to the atmospheric conditions of Earth -- something that General Zod masters in an afternoon. Tony Stark painstakingly learns how to use a suit that he built specifically for his own body, while two supervillains (and even random henchmen) can easily pop in and out of it like a greasy pair of sweatpants.
"By the way, I'm totally not wearing underwear right now. It's super vinegary down there."
Having your villain grow more powerful than the hero is fine if that growth makes sense, but when a 300-year-old Khan is thawed with the instantaneous ability to operate futuristic ships and weaponry, then you might as well make him a talking cartoon penis. Even the goddamn Indominus Rex is introduced as a caged maniac with no social skills before instantly communicating with and commanding a gang of raptors that Chris Pratt has been training for their entire lives.
But I guess it's like that old saying: "Monkey see, monkey shoot two machine guns while riding a horse."
-- George Washington to Ben Franklin, 1776
Everyone Gets Magic Expositional Plot Visions
Like I said before: Writing is hard. You have to spell things right and come up with a bunch of fucking adjectives. Screenwriting is even harder, because you have to move the characters along without the exposition feeling too forced or bland. This is accomplished with tools like television broadcasts, casual dialogue, some conspicuous prop, or all three of those things wrapped into the opening shot in Back To The Future. Or, if you're a coward like George McFly, you can have a magic vision broadcast in the heroes' head due to some psychic power or prophecy (or sometimes for no reason whatsoever).
"You will forget that you should have a spinoff by now. You will forget ..."
The entire plot of Avengers: Age Of Ultron is set in motion when Scarlet Witch sneaks up on an unsuited Tony Stark and decides to give him a vision of his fellow Avenger pals lying dead on a rock, which leads him to create her future warlord Ultron out of fear ... or something. Considering that Scarlet Witch's motivation is to avenge her parents, who were killed by Stark weapons, giving Tony spooky apocalyptic visions and then letting him run off to build whatever hellsuit those visions might inspire sure seems like a hot cup of nonsense. According to Joss Whedon, Scarlet Witch's smokey voodoo power taps into your worst fears and brings them to the surface. Which doesn't explain how she manages to give Thor an honest-to-Odin premonition, Black Widow a flashback, and Iron Man a false vision, except that it moves the plot forward. Without those visions, those characters have no reason to do the things they do in the movie.
And while you're probably shrugging this off as magic, that's exactly why this technique is so goddamn lazy in the first place. There are no rules given to us about how this works, so we accept it and move on, provided it doesn't seem too insane.
This wasn't the case for the universally despised Terminator Genisys, which (SPOILERS, I guess) granted Kyle Reese visions of himself as a child, looking into a mirror and telling himself how to defeat Skynet -- which turn out to be memories from an alternate timeline where the machines lose. After defeating Skynet, the characters take a big wet dump on the audience by tracking down child Kyle Reese on a farm and fucking telling him to remember the exposition, so adult Kyle would have the memories earlier in the film.
Fuck you, movie.
I swear to fucking God that's a plot point in the film. And while it might be the most egregious example, we see this in everything from The Lego Movie to Edge Of Tomorrow to the double-whammy in Days Of Future Past, in which Wolverine's flashback exposition makes him physically unable to stop a pivotal plot point.
"I think he's in the bathroom. Should we wait like this?"
"I'm lying on a sharp rock; let's just keep going."
Because who needs organic exposition when you can suddenly blast a character's brain with all the information they need?
"Kickass" Female Characters Who Don't Really Do Anything
In theory, writing a strong female character should be as easy as writing a neutrally-gendered action hero and then throwing in a vagina. And even though vaginas make up more than half of audience genitalia, it sure feels like Hollywood has completely forgotten how to do this, despite having created some of the most iconic lady badasses back in the '80s and '90s.
You're probably upset with me for completely forgetting characters like Tauriel, Trinity, Black Widow, and Gamora. But I didn't forget them, because none of those characters actually do anything in their films. Trinity and Black Widow might look cool, but both end up being inexplicably kidnapped instead of saving the day.
The knife was originally a penis, but they thought it was too on the nose.
For all her kung fu, Trinity is reduced to being Neo's expendable driver in the last film. At best, the female lead might fight a mini-boss or offer an assist, but those actions pale to someone strapping on a mech suit and throttling the evil alien emperor or committing domestic terrorism in the name of stopping a robot apocalypse. I'm not saying there aren't exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking, there's a tendency in modern films to create kickass female co-stars with hot leather fighting abilities who are of zero consequence to the plot ... no matter how bumbling their male co-stars may be.
Tauriel from The Hobbit got introduced as a badass elf chick who can take on Legolas, but by the end of Five Armies, she's reduced to being rescued by her silly dwarf love interest before Legolas takes over in the fight. When Gamora isn't annoyed with Peter Quill, she's busy being saved by him from prison assault and space suffocation. Come to think of it, Chris Pratt is like the number-one exporter of useless tough chicks at this point.
Not everything is awesome.
You could argue that, since the women aren't the main characters in these films, they don't get as much to do, and their implied badassness is deliberately being utilized as a fun juxtaposition to the more comical "everyman" main characters. So what happens when the "everyman" is a lady? Fucking goddamn useless Katniss Everdeen, that's what.
This is a GIF.
If "Katniss" was the name of a moss species used in the Hunger Games fighting arena, she'd probably have more impact on the outcome of the games. In fact, she's pretty much the poster child for useless "kickass" female characters. At the very beginning, she's given a sweet bow and arrow that she uses precisely one time to take a life, and instead deals out indirect (but no less horrific) deaths using mutant dogs, gravity, and beehives. Her primary method of defense is being miraculously saved by other characters, and by the second film, she's being lied to and manipulated for furthering a revolution that's apparently pivoting on her celebrity love life and pretty dresses.
I can't stress enough how terrible and useless this character is. If someone wrapped a log in a dystopian archery wetsuit and hurled it around on a chain, it would be more useful to this fictional revolution than the supposed hero of this series. But for all her lack of worth, we keep getting told that she is somehow special to the revolution ... because ...
Main Characters Are Now Fated To Be Heroes
Besides being the ravings of a madman, one of the other reasons people didn't respond to the new Terminator film is that the main love story had all the charm of two dead dogs violently smashing together in a dumpster caught in a cyclone. And when you think about it, Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor have no business falling in love in the first place. The John-Connor-producing sex those two had in the original Terminator film was a night of fear-induced junk-bumping, not the result of some heartfelt courtship. But since we still need that particular boning to go down in order to create the future leader of the resistance, the two characters now find themselves mysteriously in love with one another, as if fate's hand has made their genitals entwine like an uncharismatic pretzel.
Attached to two equally uncharismatic leads.
But this isn't simply one instance of bad writing; it's a side effect created by the "soft reboot" trend, which is when a movie somehow resets the storyline of a franchise while still trying to remain in the same timeline. It's a cute little trick used with time travel in the new Star Trek, X-Men, and Terminator franchises ... but the problem is that the writers now have to think up entirely new ways for the same characters to meet. There's no good reason for Kirk to meet Spock in a timeline in which Kirk is a ruffian Earth pervert who cheated his way through Starfleet Academy and Spock is a respected officer. (The only reason Kirk and Spock become friends in the new movies is because Future Spock tells Kirk that they are friends.) Likewise, Wolverine has no reason to meet William Stryker and get his adamantium claws if he's already working with the X-Men in the 1970s.
So instead of finding a clever way to work over these hurdles, writers have started introducing the idea that these characters were destined to cross paths. This is usually done with a throwaway line, like Beast pondering whether Mystique is fated to kill Trask in Days Of Future Past or John Connor saying that Reese is doomed to die like he's the goddamn Oracle. Or, if the writers are feeling feisty, they opt to just plunge a throbbing middle finger straight up the audience's buttholes:
"I do it 'Vulcan salute'-style. Two holes at once; more efficient."
What are the goddamned odds that Kirk would be ejected from the Enterprise on the same planet containing both the time-stranded Future Spock and a stationed Scotty? That's statistically bonkers, and the film completely dismisses it as some kind of mystic happening. In a cut scene, Spock even addresses this head-on by claiming that the universe was balancing itself out. Because as any fan will tell you, Star Trek has always been about invisible space magic binding the universe together.
Characters Are Aware That Their Movies Are Ridiculous
I want you to imagine for a moment that the original Star Wars had a scene where Han Solo stopped everything to remark on how obvious the Death Star's exhaust port weakness was. "Couldn't they have put a hatch on there? What kind of Empire is this guy running?" he'd snort to Luke.
"Hey man, just go with it ... okay? That guy is wearing a samurai helmet, I'm holding a laser sword ... nothing makes sense!" Luke would reply, as if to address the audience.
How stupid would that be? Thank god movies don't do that.
Oh right. That's exactly what happens in Age Of Ultron, when Hawkeye practically loses an eye winking about how silly the Marvel Universe is. Because modern films are now terrified of taking themselves too seriously, and instead resort to self-aware, Wayne's World-esque dialogue that manages to completely misinterpret what "self-aware" actually means.
Jurassic World features a character wearing a fucking Jurassic Park T-shirt and talking about how "legit" the original park was. But when you think about the in-story "Jurassic Park," you realize that he's referring to a classified accident at an abandoned theme park with attractions that never opened and are in no way comparable to the awesome rides and creatures inhabiting their current park. In other words, this character only makes sense if he's aware that Jurassic Park is a movie everyone loves.
"Hope I can be in a movie like that someday."
What the hell is going on, movies? Between not fearing death and having total awareness of the inconsistencies of their own world, these characters have become Arnold Schwarzenegger at the end of Last Action Hero. It's to the point of being flat-out insulting, as our Jurassic Park fanatic also spews a diatribe about how corporations are butting into the park, before the movie makes a solid attempt at a world record for "most product placement jammed into a film." It's as if the director thought that by having a character verbally complain about the movie selling out, it would somehow make it okay that the movie sold out.
"Jeez ... this Mercedes ad is TOTALLY lame, right guys?"
And the weird part is that it was okay. Jurassic World is the third most successful movie ever, and was no doubt enjoyed by the majority of people reading this article, despite containing not a single logical or relatable character. Shit, the main conflict of the whole movie is kicked off when a seasoned dino expert stupidly walks into a cage to caress the claw marks of a monster his levelheaded boss has yet to locate, even though she's administering the time-honored dinosaur tracking method of sudden, irrational shrieking.
"For the love of god, why am I even driving in this scene!?"
That's nonsense, but still not a fraction of the gibberish of Terminator Genisys's timeline-skewing inciting incident, which sees Arnold sent back to save a nine-year-old Sarah Connor. When asked point blank who sent him, the Terminator claims his memory of this was erased, to which Kyle Reese jokingly exclaims, "Well that's convenient!" The film never bothers to bring it up again. That joke is seriously the only explanation for why the entire film exists.
When asked, even the director admitted that the logical details of Terminator were a wretched mess, and said that he was hoping to use humor to "skate over it." In his exact words, "It's a way of saying, 'You may not get this, but who cares? Keep going!'" To recap, the most important detail of the entire movie doesn't make sense, and the movie addresses this by pointing it out and laughing about it.
"Haha, isn't it funny how this movie sucks? Keep watching!"
Well, here's the thing: We should care. Every time. Even when we like the joke. Because the more these movies excuse irrational characters and completely illogical plots by pointing out how irrational and illogical they are, the less we'll remember that those things are bad. Having your characters point out that something in the movie is dumb, and then having your movie continue to do that dumb thing, doesn't make the thing any less dumb. It makes you a terrible writer. And then the next Jurassic Park film might as well replace everyone with dinosaurs in big stylish white business suits and leather vests.
Okay, that's a bad example because it sounds awesome, but you get the idea.
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